“I put spaces between the words…and I sounded them out. I spelled my right.”
“What else did you do well?”
“I put a capital letter at the beginning.”
“What could you do to make your writing better?”
“I could put a dot at the end. I forget what it’s called.”
“Yes, you could use a period at the end. What is our goal for how many sentences we want to be writing by the next report card?”
“Exactly. At least three. What other ideas could you have put into your writing that would help you to get three sentences?”
Thus began one of the student-led parent conferences in my grade one classroom last term. Each time I do these conferences, they go more smoothly. This is probably because I am more comfortable each time with the process, and I pass that feeling on to the students. They really enjoy talking about what they’re learning.
The conferences always center around what has been posted on the student’s individual blog. Their blogs are an online portfolio that shows their learning in all of our subject areas through the year. Because we’ve posted samples of their work throughout the term, the parents have almost all seen the work before. Even so, the comments their children make regarding their goals help parents to know what specific skills we have been working on and what to watch for through the next few months.
The Students Choose
In the past, I have allowed the students to choose three articles from their blog to share with their parents that they think reflect their best work . The students are always drawn to entries that contain videos or pictures they’ve drawn. Visuals are so important to six year olds (as they are to us all). During our most recent conferencing, I asked the children to consider and choose their best writing, their best representing, and their best project. Let me explain those last two items.
Representing is a strand of our language arts curriculum in which the students show what they know about something through a drawing, drama, clay, etc. It’s about creating a visual representation of knowledge. I love this strand because students who are not strong in the text-centered strands of reading and writing can — and often do — excel at this. Project refers to the culminating projects from our inquiry units. At the time of our conferences, only two projects had been posted.
Since the beginning of the school year, we have been talking about what good writers and good representers do. We have anchor charts in our classroom that we frequently refer to. Because of this, the students were able to fairly easily talk about what they have done well and what they were still working on. When it was time to talk about their projects, I asked the students to remind us of some of the things they had learned about that particular topic.
Then, we talked about their progress toward their reading goal, and set a new goal together.
Time alone with parents
I always also provide a short chance for parents to talk to me by themselves. I just thank the students for the great job they did explaining their learning (not an easy thing for them to do in front of their teacher and parent) and tell them they can go and explore the Legos I have placed outside the door. Rarely do the parents and I talk about anything that should not be said in front of the students, but parents are just learning about student-led conferences, and I think they feel more comfortable with the opportunity to spend time in a more traditional conference, however briefly.
In the spring, when we hold our next conference, I’ve decided I will only ask the students to leave if the parents request it. It has been my experience that by the spring, the students are much more comfortable with the process and will do more of the “leading” and reflecting on their growing knowledge and skills.
The conferences are about the children and their learning. They are about where the children have come from and where they are going. They are about how their parents and I can support their learning journey. It only makes sense for them to be there, too.